Many people predicted the potential outcomes of UFC 168's rematch between middleweight champ Chris Weidman and former champ/all-time-great Anderson Silva, but nobody saw the actual result coming. Just over a minute into the second round, Silva slung a vicious leg kick at his foe. People expected this from him, as he'd used leg kicks successfully in the first fight with Weidman. I even recommended the technique myself before the event. What nobody expected was to see the Spider's shin wrap itself around Weidman's like a car around a tree, but that's exactly what happened. Anderson fell to the canvas in pain, his tibia and fibula both completely snapped, and Chris Weidman was still the champion.
Obviously this wasn't the way things were supposed to end. Granted, injuries happen in MMA, and it's hard to argue that Chris didn't best Silva in every way. But still, nobody wanted to see the greatest middleweight of all time go out like that.
Unfortunately, as with their last fight, this result detracts from the impressive display of technique put on by Weidman. Anderson is an enigmatic and charismatic figure, and a veritable pillar of MMA, so it is expected that he will be the focus of his defeats as well as his wins. However, some have now come forward decrying Chris Weidman's too-successful kick check "dirty."
That's not understandable, and it's not okay.
Chris Weidman drilled it all of the time and used it in training! He knew exactly what he was doing, so therefore it wasn’t a fluke injury, it was… Well, this is where things get kind of messy, right? If Weidman’s trainer calls it the "Destruction" and talks about breaking guys legs with it, Chris Weidman using it and knowing the possible outcome is a bit reckless, especially considering the outcome of the fight.
In case you didn’t catch what I was doing, that was not entirely serious. No, I don’t think that Chris Weidman intended to end Anderson Silva’s career or even break his leg. You know why? Because you can’t predict an injury like that, it is in its very nature a fluke injury and I’m going to explain why it was a fluke injury.
My issue with this statement is the use of the word "fluke." Was the gruesome break that Silva suffered expected? Of course not. Weidman himself admitted that he felt bad for Silva when he realized the extent of the injury; he also said that his own training partners usually responded to the check by wincing and walking it off for a minute before resuming sparring.
A check is meant to deter the opponent from kicking. Shin-on-shin contact is never fun, even if your legs are supremely conditioned, so Muay Thai fighters have developed two methods of stopping kicks without causing themselves undue pain or risk of injury, while maximizing pain and risk to the opponent.
The first is what I would term a "soft" or "reflex" check. This is the method most commonly seen in MMA, on those rare instances when someone actually checks a kick. With a soft check, the knee is lifted high, and the opponent's kick impacts the lower part of the shin, just above the ankle. With this type of check, the reflex action of the knee helps to absorb the impact, and both fighters are relatively undamaged.
As a purely defensive technique this is fine, but as I said above, the true purpose of a check is to deter the opponent from kicking. Thus, the ideal check is one which incorporates one of my favorite concepts--that of "aggressive defense."
Enter the "hard" check. This technique is now being referred to as a "knee spike," but I believe that term to be a bit of a misnomer. In reality, the kneecap should make no contact with the shin of the opponent--I can personally attest to the fact that, in a battle between tibia and patella, patella loses. Painfully. Rather, the uppermost part of the shin, the thickest and strongest part of the bone, is the intended zone of contact for a hard check. When the thinner, lower shin of the opponent meets the upper shin of the defender, the result is that the opponent experiences a far greater amount of pain, and stands a chance of injuring their own shin.
As a result, they will either throw fewer and more tentative, softer kicks, or else they will quit throwing them altogether, for fear of suffering the fate that Anderson Silva so memorably suffered on Saturday.
The classic example of this is the same one that Mr. Walsh used: Ernesto Hoost's finish of Ray Sefo, in which Sefo fractured his shin on Hoost's well-placed check. Note that Sefo's shin does not strike Hoost's kneecap, but rather the uppermost portion of his shin bone--and don't worry, this one's not as graphic as the injury Anderson suffered.
In his op-ed piece, Dave Walsh elaborates on this hard check, saying:
Good Muay Thai fighters will condition their shins, strengthening them so that they are able to throw hard kicks without injuring themselves and to inflict more damage. With that being said, it is still incredibly difficult to condition your shins against an injury such as this. When a fighter checks with their knee (or right below the knee) the attacker’s shin comes into contact with what is essentially an unmovable object. A regular leg kick there is some give as your leg naturally bends at your knee (duh) and it helps to absorb some of the force. When checking a kick higher with a knee the attacker — depending on the angle — is driving their shin into something with zero give to it.
Which sounds like an ideal check to me. But Mr. Walsh goes on, saying that, in Muay Thai circles, this hard check is considered "dirty." Muay Thai instructors, he says, will likely not even bother teaching it to their students, because in fighting you should not do to others what you do not done to you.
Personally, I find that notion absurd. Fighting is doing to others what you don't want done to you. In submission grappling, competitors accept the fact that the opponent will try to grind his forehead into their chins, or drive his shoulder into their jaws, because they intend to do the same to him. In boxing, fighters expect the opponent to try to crack them on the chin, and they make damn sure to try the same thing themselves.
Now, there might be some credence to the idea that, in Thailand, hard checks are considered unsportsmanlike. Thai fighters, most of whom do not get paid well and fight to feed their families, are expected to compete sometimes up to once a week. This already grueling fight schedule would indeed be impossible if shin injuries and deep cuts were occurring in every fight. As a result, many Thai nakmuay have an unspoken rule that no elbows will be thrown, at least until the opponent starts throwing elbows, to reduce the chance of cuts that could prevent either fighter from earning his living. I can accept the fact that fighters might view damaging checks the same way.
But at the highest levels of Muay Thai, where fighters have time to recover between fights, the hard check is an absolute staple. As proof, enjoy this, one of the many fights between Saenchai PKSaenchaimuaythaigym and Singdam Kiatmoo9, whose names are almost as fun as their fights.
These two Muay Thai greats block nearly every kick with their upper shins. Funnily enough, both also use another technique often criticized for being "dirty" by MMA fans, the straight kick to the knee or thigh, a favorite attack of Anderson Silva himself.
I will grant that Anderson's leg breaking was not a predictable outcome, but with a technique designed to damage the shins of the opponent, it cannot be called a fluke either. Nor can that technique be called dirty, any more so than a punch which is intended to render the opponent unconscious, or a submission which is meant to hyperextend his joints.
My personal analysis? This is one of the pitfalls of being such a defensive genius that you can go on fighting late into your career. Anderson's brain is likely still in very good shape compared to his compatriots (such as poor, roadworn Chris Leben, who began fighting at around the same time), but his bones are not what they once were. This is what happens when a 38 year-old shin meets one ten years its junior. Unfortunately, this also means that Anderson will likely have to spend much more time in recovery than a younger fighter.
It wasn't the win we expected, or even the one we wanted, but after one round of dominance and an undeniably thorough, if unintentional victory, there is no question that Chris Weidman was the better fighter, and is the rightful middleweight champ.
Check back here tomorrow for the Technique Recap of this event, in which I'll break down the most profound moments of technique and strategy from UFC 168, and some of the most profound lapses as well. And be sure to check out my podcast Heavy Hands, if that's your sort of thing. We'll be beginning the new year with a technique-focused look back at this traumatic main event.